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Best Ultrabooks and Premium Laptops 2021

HP Spectre x360 13 2019
(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Whether you’re a student, a professional or just want to stay connected and productive, a laptop is one of the most important tools of the trade. But some are better than others, with wide differences in keyboards, battery life, displays and design. If you’re looking for a powerful laptop that easily fits in your bag and doesn’t break your back, you want an ultrabook.

The “ultrabook” moniker was originally coined by Intel in 2012 and used to refer to a set of premium, super-thin laptops that met the chipmaker’s predefined standards. However, just as many folks refer to tissues as Kleenexes or web searching as Googling, the term ultrabook commonly refers to any premium ultraportable laptop, whether it carries Intel’s seal of approval or not.

Of course, there's always new tech coming down the pipe. Intel has 45-watt "Tiger Lake H" processors coming down the pipe, though those are gaming focused, and there are already rumors in the air about a successor to Apple's M1 processor.

AMD recently released its Ryzen 5000-series laptop processors, and Intel's latest are Tiger Lake H35 and U series chips. in our review of the Asus ZenBook 13 UM325SA, which uses a Ryzen 7 5800U, we found the chip to be "stunningly strong." But the computer still hasn't gone on sale yet, so it hasn't made our best list just yet.

Quick Ultrabook / Premium Laptop Shopping Tips 

  • Get a good keyboard: Whether you’re using an ultrabook to browse the web, send emails, code, write or do other productivity work, the keyboard is one of your primary ways of interacting. Get something with responsive keys that aren’t mushy. Low-travel is ok if the keys have the right feel to them, but the last thing you want to do is “bottom out” while typing.  
  • Consider what you need in a screen: At a minimum, your laptop should have a 1920 x 1080 screen. Some laptops offer 4K options, though it’s sometimes harder to see the difference at 13-inches or below. While 4K may be more detailed, 1080p screens give you much longer battery life. 
  • Some laptops can be upgraded: While CPUs and GPUs are almost always soldered down, some laptops let you replace the RAM and storage, so you can buy cheaper now and add more memory and a bigger hard drive or SSD down the road. But the thinnest laptops may not have that option. 
  • Battery life is important: Aim for something that lasts for 8 hours or longer on a charge (gaming is an exception). For productivity, many laptops easily surpass this number. But be wary of manufacturer claims, which don’t always use strenuous tests. Some laptops are starting to add fast charging, which is a nice bonus. 

Best Ultrabooks and Premium Laptops 2021

HP Spectre x360 14 (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

1. HP Spectre x360 14

The Best Ultrabook (and 2-in-1) Overall

CPU: Intel Core i7-1165G7 | GPU: Intel Iris Xe (integrated) | Display: 13.5-inch, 3:2, 3000 x 2000, OLED touchscreen | Weight: 2.95 pounds / 1.34 kg

Sleek, attractive design
Vivid 3:2 display shows more of your work
Clicky, responsive keyboard
Thunderbolt 4 and USB Type-A ports
OLED model doesn't last all day
Difficult to upgrade SSD

The HP Spectre x360 14 is everything a modern ultrabook should be. This laptop has an attractive design, but isn't about form over function. It has both Thunderbolt 4 over USB Type-C, as well as a microSD card reader, all in a thin chassis.

But what really wows is the display. The 3:2 aspect ratio is tall and shows more of your work or web pages, and is also more natural for tablet mode. The OLED model we reviewed also offered vivid colors, though you would likely get longer battery life with the non-OLED, lower resolution panel.

The other big plus is the Spectre x360's keyboard, which is clicky and comfortable. Sure, it's no desktop mechanical keyboard, but for a laptop, it's very responsive and feels great to use.

Read: HP Spectre x360 14 review

Dell XPS 13 (9310) (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

2. Dell XPS 13 (9310)

The Best Clamshell Ultrabook

CPU: Intel Core i7-1165G7 | GPU: Intel Iris Xe (integrated) | Display: 13.4-inch, 1920 x 1200, touchscreen | Weight: 2.8 pounds / 1.2 kg

Beautiful look
Bright, tall screen
Solid typing experience
 Minimal port selection

The Dell XPS 13 has long been celebrated for both its form and function. The laptop is tiny, but packs a punch with Intel's Tiger Lake processors and adds some extra screen real estate with a tall, 16:10 display (many laptops have a 16:9 screen).

We also like the XPS 13's keyboard, with a snappy press and slightly larger keycaps than previous designs. The screen is bright, and we shouldn't take its thin bezels for granted, as Dell continues to lead on that front.

Admittedly, the XPS 13 is short on ports, opting for a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports for booth charging and accessories. Its performance, portability and long battery life are likely to make up for that for those on the go.

Read: Dell XPS 13 (9310) review  

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1) (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

3. MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1)

The Best Mac

CPU: Apple M1 | GPU: 8-core GPU on SOC | Display: 13.3-inch, 2560 x 1600, True Tone | Weight: 3.0 pounds / 1.4 kg

M1 is powerful and fast
Runs cool and quiet
Apps just work, even if emulated
Long-lasting battery life
Strong audio
Limited ports and RAM options
Touch Bar isn't very useful
Poor webcam

While some people may still want the power, large display and port selection of the 16-inch MacBook Pro, Apple has proved with the 13-inch version that its own home-grown M1 chip is capable of the needs of plenty of people. This is Apple's first step in breaking away from Intel, and it is extremely impressive.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro runs cool and quiet, while the chip is faster than its competition in most cases. It's also efficient and ran for more than 16 and a half hours on our battery test.

Many apps run natively on the Arm processor and those that don't use Apple's Rosetta 2 software for emulation. Even then, users will barely know that emulation is being used at all. Everything just works.

The big difference between the Pro and the Air, which also uses M1, is that the Pro has a fan. Those who aren't doing intensive work may be able to save a bit and get a very similar machine by going with the Air, and they will get function keys instead of the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar.

Read: Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1) review 

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

4. Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD)

A Nice 15-inch Option

CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 4980U (Microsoft Surface Edition) | GPU: AMD Radeon Vega (integrated) | Display: 15-inch, 2496 x 1664 touchscreen | Weight: 3.4 pounds / 1.54 kg

Comfortable, clicky keyboard
3:2 display
Strong performance from custom AMD silicon
Long battery life
Sluggish SSD speeds
Meger port selection

The 15-inch version of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 with the AMD Ryzen Microsoft Surface Edition is a portable productivity powerhouse with long battery life. If you're looking for a good mid-size screen, it's worth a look.

The custom AMD processor proved powerful in our benchmarks, and was optimized to bring about more than 12 hours of battery life on our test. While it's based on Zen 2 cores, the processor has some tricks from the more recent 5000 series that helped it impress.

This design has been in use in some form for a while now, and the port selection seems meager, but if you like the magnetic Surface Connector, you'll be glad to know it's still here.

Microsoft's 3:2 display is great for work as it shows more of your text, webpage, or vertical space on a spreadsheet. What this laptop lacks (its slow SSD speeds) it absolutely makes up with a display and comfortable keyboard that make it a joy to use.

Read: Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review 

MSI GE66 Raider (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

5. MSI GE66 Raider

The Best Overall Gaming Laptop

CPU: Intel Core i9-10980HK | GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q | Display: 15.6 inches, 1920 x 1080, 300 Hz | Weight: 5.3 pounds (2.4 kg)

Great gaming performance
300 Hz display
Well-executed RGB light bar
High-end build
Cramped keyboard
Tinny audio

The MSI GE66 Raider is a gaming laptop, and it’s saying it loud with a massive RGB light bar. It’s new look is aggressive, but it’s not just talk, with options going up to an Intel Core i9-10980HK and Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q.

For those looking for esports-level performance in games like League of Legends or Overwatch, there’s an option for a 300 Hz display.

And while it’s not the slimmest laptop around (or even MSI’s thinnest), it does feel remarkably portable considering the power inside, and  we can’t help but appreciate high-end build quality. 

Read: MSI GE66 Raider review 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

6. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 8)

The Best Ultrabook for Work

CPU: Intel Core i7-10610U | GPU: Intel UHD Graphics | Display: 14-inch, 3840 x 2160 touchscreen | Weight: 2.4 pounds / 1.1 kg

Slim, lightweight design
Excellent keyboard
Vibrant 4K display
Great port selection
Dull, blurry webcam
Annoying power button placement
VoIP controls only work with two apps

Lenovo’s ThinkPads have always been favorites, and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 8) continues that trend with a slim design, excellent keyboard and an excellent selection of ports to keep you connected to all of your peripherals.

If you get the 1080p option, you can count on all-day battery life (the 4K model we tested didn’t fare as well, but that’s often the tradeoff for higher resolution among ultrabooks).

Of course, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon also attracts one other audience: fans of the TrackPoint nub in the center of the keyboard. 

Read: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 8) review 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

7. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano

The Best Ultrabook for Work (Alternate Pick)

CPU: Intel Core i7-1160G7 | GPU: Intel iris Xe | Display: 13-inch, 2160 x 1350 | Weight: 1.99 pounds / 907 grams

Lightweight
Best-in-class keyboard
High-res, 16:10 screen
Long battery life 
No USB Type-A or HDMI ports
Expensive

If you value ultraportability over all else, the ThinkPad X1 Nano takes much of what is great about the X1 Carbon and puts it in a smaller form factor. You get long battery life and an excellent keyboard, as well as a few other pluses. This laptop has a 2160 x 1350 display with a 3:2 aspect ratio, showing more of your work than some other ThinkPads.

The trade-off on this 1.99-pound laptop is that it's lacking in ports, which some professionals may miss. It has two Thunderbolt 4 ports and a 3.5 mm headphone jack, but no USB Type-A or HDMI outputs.

But in terms of other usability, you lose nothing. It's still an excellent ThinkPad experience (including the TrackPoint nub, if that's your thing), but easier to carry around.

Read: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano review 

Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

8. Asus ZenBook Duo 14 UX482

Best Dual Screen Laptop

CPU: Intel Core i7-1165G7 | GPU: Intel iris Xe | Display: 14-inch 1080p (1920 x 1080) touchscreen, 12.6 inch (1920 x 515) ScreenPad Plus | Weight: 3.5 pounds / 1.6 kg

$999 starting price with an i5
Very good battery life
Loud speakers
Improved hinge mechanism and keyboard layout
Keyboard/touchpad are awkward
8GB of RAM in lower configurations

Asus has begun to refine the dual screen laptop. Sure, there's a more powerful version, but for a laptop with two screens, this one is fairly light, and ran for over 10 and a half hours on a charge.

Windows 10 doesn't yet natively support dual screen software, Asus's ScreenPad Plus launcher has improved since launch, with easy flicks and drags to move apps around the display. For Adobe apps, there's custom dial-based software.

The keyboard and mouse placement are the big compromises, as there isn't a wrist rest and they can feel cramped. But if you want two-screens, this is as good as it gets for now.

Read:  Asus ZenBook Duo 14 UX482 review

Dell XPS 17 (9700) (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

9. Dell XPS 17

The Best Big Screen Laptop

CPU: Intel Core i7-10875H | GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q | Display: 17-inch, 3840 x 2400, 16:10 aspect ratio, touch | Weight: 4.7 pounds / 2.1 kg

Slim bezels and attractive design
Bright, vivid, 16:10 display
Strong performance and gaming-grade GPU
Massive touchpad
Middling-quality webcam

If you’re going for a big screen, the Dell XPS 17 shines. The display on the laptop is bright and colorful, especially on the 4K+ option that we tested, and with minimal bezels around it, your work (or play) is all that’s in focus. 

With up to an Intel Core i7 and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q, there’s plenty of power here. While it’s not on our list of best gaming laptops, you can definitely play video games on it, including intensive games that use ray tracing.

All of that comes in an attractive design similar to the XPS 13 and XPS 15, though the trackpad takes advantage of the extra space. It’s a luxurious amount of room to navigate and perform gestures.

Read:  Dell XPS 17 (9700) review

CPUGPURAMStorageDisplay
HP Spectre x360 14Up to Intel Core i7-1165G7Intel Iris Xe (integrated)Up to 16GB LPDDR4-3733Up to 2TB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD13.5-inch touchscreen, up to 3000 x 2000 resolution, OLED
Dell XPS 13 (9310)Up to Intel Core i7-1165G7Intel Iris Xe (integrated)Up to 16GB LPDDR4x-4276Up to 512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD13.4-inch touchscreen, 1920 x 1200 resolution
MacBook Pro (16-inch)Apple M18-core GPU on SOCUp to 16GB LPDDR4X-4266Up to 2TB SSD13 inches, 2560 x 1600
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4Up to AMD Ryzen 7 4980U or Intel Core i7-1185GAMD Radeon or Intel Iris Xe (integrated)Up to 32GB LPDDR4xUp to 1TB SSD15-inch, 3:2 , 2496 x 1664 touchscreen
MSI GE66 RaiderIntel Core i9-10980HKNvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-QUp to 32GB DDR4-32001TB PCIe 3.0 M.2 NVMe15.6 inches, 1920 x 1080, 300 Hz
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 8)Up to Intel Core i7-10610UIntel UHD GraphicsUp to 16GB LPDDR3Up to 1TB PCIe NVMe SSD14 inches, up to 4K with Dolby Vision and HDR400
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 NanoUp to Intel Core i7-1160G7Intel Iris Xe GraphicsUp to 16GB LPDDR4x-4266Up to 1TB PCIe NVMe SSDUp to 13-inch 2160 x 1350 touchscreen display with Dolby Vision
Asus ZenBook Duo UX481Up to Intel Core i7-10510UNvidia GeForce MX250Up to 16GB DDR31TB PCIe NVMe SSD 14 inch 1080p (1920 x1080) touchscreen, 12.6 inch (1920 x 515) ScreenPad Plus
Dell XPS 17Up to Intel Core i7-10875HUp to Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-QUp to 32GB DDR41TB PCIe NVMe SSD17.0 inches, 16:10, up to 3840 x 2200, touch

Finding Discounts on the Best Ultrabooks

Whether you're shopping for one of the best ultrabooks or a laptop didn't quite make our list, you may find savings by checking out our lists of the latest Dell coupon codes, HP coupon codes, Lenovo coupon codes, Best Buy promo codes or Newegg promo codes.

  • mitch074
    ...and not a single Renoir based machine.
    Reply
  • brakteat
    Indeed. Four years ago when I bought my current laptop, I would not consider buying one with a CPU from AMD because Intel had so much better performance per watt. Now the opposite is true.

    This article actually highlights a true embarrassment for Dell, HP and Apple. They have known since long that AMD would offer Zen2-based mobile CPU with an expected much superior performance compared to Intel. Still all three missed the train by launching new high-end models with only Intel CPU.
    Reply
  • mariusmotea
    I avoid HP and HPE hardware as much as possible after very bad experience with lot of them. Only the laser printers and the L3 switches are quality products.
    Reply
  • jpeters44
    Seriously? How can you keep a straight face while recommending the N-th rehashing of the Skylake architecture, still on 14nm, or at best, 10nm? In isolation it's already a tough sell, but facing more power efficient, performant and featured CPU/APUs from AMD then one can only hope this is a Intel sponsored "round-up" since otherwise it would imply a complete loss of credibility from TH.
    I'm typing this from a Dell XPS 15 2019 edition with i7 9750H, while my personal new laptop is a 4800U Asus TUF.

    It's not even funny. The XPS 15 has a fantastic wide gamut screen, and performance is atrocious. Sure the boost is amazing on paper for the few seconds it can run until thermal limits are hit and the machine throttles down. After 1 year, the keyboard actually bent slightly near the trackpad with the heat and the battery inflated. A replacement was needed. It wasn't an isolated case either - a cursory search for such will reveal lots of angry Dell customers. Luckily the company contract covers it.
    Intel just cannot compete, period. The 4800U performance, battery life, expandability, 2x NVME SSDs, 1x SATA SSD or HDD. Sure the screen gamut won't even cover 100% sRGB, but for that you can find better units from Lenovo, and the Asus G14 with the 4900U, just to name a few.
    The offers displayed in the article are great if you can get them at 30-50% of their sale price.
    In technical merit alone, well, it'll clearly take a bit of time for Intel to catch up. Let's hope they do though, lest AMD "pull an Intel", stop innovating and start charging an arm and a leg for Ryzen rehashes for 5 years.
    Reply
  • Deicidium369
    mariusmotea said:
    I avoid HP and HPE hardware as much as possible after very bad experience with lot of them. Only the laser printers and the L3 switches are quality products.
    Good practice - For laptops, for the last 4 or 5 years it's been nothing but Dell.
    Reply
  • Deicidium369
    brakteat said:
    Indeed. Four years ago when I bought my current laptop, I would not consider buying one with a CPU from AMD because Intel had so much better performance per watt. Now the opposite is true.

    This article actually highlights a true embarrassment for Dell, HP and Apple. They have known since long that AMD would offer Zen2-based mobile CPU with an expected much superior performance compared to Intel. Still all three missed the train by launching new high-end models with only Intel CPU.
    AMD is not seen as a premium brand.

    Intel - Premium, Ultrabook, High End
    AMD - Another Marketing Deception - basement level, last years models, bargain bin
    Reply
  • Deicidium369
    mitch074 said:
    ...and not a single Renoir based machine.
    Renoir is not in a single ultrabook or a single premium laptop.
    Reply
  • mitch074
    Deicidium369 said:
    Renoir is not in a single ultrabook or a single premium laptop.
    Which is... Interesting, because that means that current entry level laptops kick the pants off premium laptops when it comes to CPU power and battery efficiency.
    Wonder why such performance isn't found neither on premium laptops nor ultrabooks. Premium means lousy now ?
    Reply
  • jeremyj_83
    Deicidium369 said:
    AMD is not seen as a premium brand.

    Intel - Premium, Ultrabook, High End
    AMD - Another Marketing Deception - basement level, last years models, bargain bin
    That is such utter BS it is sad to see such statements on Tomshardware forums. Those type of false and rabid fanboyism should be saved for places like wfctech.

    It is quite sad that for their consumer products HP, Dell, etc... not putting AMD CPUs in their top of the line designs. However, for us consumers we end up getting superior performance for less cost, see the $649 Acer Swift 3. The biggest issue with that laptop is the screen isn't the best and it could use a better thermal solution, however, you get better CPU & iGPU performance than the i7-1065G7.
    Reply
  • Don Frenser
    jeremyj_83 said:
    That is such utter BS it is sad to see such statements on Tomshardware forums. Those type of false and rabid fanboyism should be saved for places like wfctech.

    It is quite sad that for their consumer products HP, Dell, etc... not putting AMD CPUs in their top of the line designs. However, for us consumers we end up getting superior performance for less cost, see the $649 Acer Swift 3. The biggest issue with that laptop is the screen isn't the best and it could use a better thermal solution, however, you get better CPU & iGPU performance than the i7-1065G7.


    He is not saying he sees it that way. The big spenders in corparation know nothing. They see Intel and they think is it what they want.

    They are just stupid.
    Reply